Full Report On Proposed Changes To Carbonell Award

Joint Statement from the
Carbonell Board of Directors
Don Walters, Donald R. Walters, P.A. (President & Treasurer)
Gary Schweikhart, PR-BS (Vice President)
Jody Leshinsky, Pompano Beach Cultural Affairs Dept. (Secretary)
Joanne Benkö, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
Linda Birdsey, Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
Leslie Fordham, Broward Cultural Division
Ricardo J. Gonzalez III, Beaux Arts Gallery & the Carbonell Familly
Jeff Kiltie, Aventura Arts & Cultural Center
Javier Siut, Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs.

Carbonell Special Committee
Gary Schweikhart & Jeff Kiltie (Co-Chairs)
Maria Banda-Rodaz, Area Stage
Caryl Fantel, Fantel Music
Patrick Fitzwater, Slow Burn Theatre Company
Jeni Hacker, Actor
David Jobin, Carbonell Judge
Andrew Kato, Maltz Jupiter Theatre
Jill Kratish, Carbonell Panelist
Herman G. Montero, Production Manager/Lighting Designer
Nicholas Richberg, Miami New Drama
Geoffrey Short, Pembroke Pines Theatre of the Performing Arts
Savannah Whaley, Pierson Grant PR

Carbonell Awards Mission Statement
The Carbonell Awards fosters the artistic growth of professional theater in South Florida by celebrating the diversity of our theater artists, providing educational scholarships, and building audience appreciation and civic pride by highlighting achievements of our theater community.

Committed to Diversity, Equality, Inclusion
While Promoting Excellence in South Florida Theatre

While entertainment awards in general are losing both luster and relevance these days, the 45-year-old Carbonell Awards organization has itself come under scrutiny in recent months.

In an Open Letter, dated 8/6/20, the artistic and executive leadership of 11 theaters (City Theatre, Island City Stage, Juggerknot Theatre Company, M Ensemble Company, Miami New Drama, New City Players, Palm Beach Dramaworks, Slow Burn Theatre Company, Theatre LAB, Thinking Cap Theatre, Zoetic Stage) and one related organization (South Florida Theatre League) offered five specific suggestions to increase diversity and fairness, while demanding “dialogue and swift, meaningful, sustainable change.”

In conversations with theaters, both pre- and post- the Open Letter, concerns were also raised about the fairness of the current judging process, the qualifications of individual judges, and the potential for bias and perceived conflicts of interest.

During this same timeframe, four highly respected theaters in Palm Beach County, each for its own reasons, announced they were dropping out of consideration for future Carbonell Awards: Maltz Jupiter Theatre, MNM Theatre Company, Primal Forces, and The Wick Theatre.

After eight months of intense dialogue, several communitywide Zoom calls, and the subsequent creation of the Carbonell Special Committee in January, a number of specific recommendations were thoughtfully considered and debated by all parties. In fact, both sides made serious and substantial compromises before agreeing to this joint statement about the future structure, outreach and responsibility of the Carbonell Awards, while reiterating the critical importance of local theaters to also increase diversity both on-stage and back of the house.

Approved Recommendations:
The revised Carbonell Awards:
•         needs to be both a recognition and celebration of local theatrical excellence.
•         needs to increase the diversity and inclusion among Carbonell board members and judges.
•         needs to actively support efforts by local theaters to increase diversity both on- and back-stage.
•         needs to continue awarding scholarships.
•         needs to both sharpen and expand the award selection process while reaffirming the Carbonell’s established mission of celebrating the diversity of our theater artists and highlighting achievements of our theater community.

Carbonell Special Awards
The Carbonells currently give out six traditional Board-selected Special Awards:
•         The George Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts honoring an individual (or team) who has contributed significantly to the artistic and cultural development of the region.
•         The Bill von Maurer Award for Theatrical Excellence honoring a theater company that exemplifies excellence for the totality of its programming: productions, educational outreach, developmental programs and audiences served.
•         The Bill Hindman Award honoring significant, long-term contributions to the region’s cultural life and onstage career achievement, by performing artists based in South Florida.
•         The Charlie Cinnamon Award honoring an individual who not only contributes significantly to the support of the arts in South Florida, but also for dedicated service to the Carbonell Awards organization.
•         The Ruth Foreman Award honoring an individual or group for singular achievement and/or career contributions.
•         The Howard Kleinberg Award honoring an individual or organization for contributions to the health and development of the arts in South Florida.

Going forward, the Carbonells will add a new Board-selected Special Award:
•         The Vinnette Carroll Award honoring an individual, theater or organization for significant achievement in advancing the cause of diversity, equality, and inclusion in South Florida theater.

This new Carbonell Special Award is named after the legendary playwright, actress and theater director who was the first African-American woman to direct on Broadway and the first to receive a Tony Award nomination for directing, before moving to South Florida in the 1980s where she founded the Vinnette Carroll Repertory Company.

While there have been a number of African-American and Hispanic Carbonell Special Award winners in the past, this new recurring award demonstrates the Board’s ongoing commitment to encouraging and honoring individuals and institutions that are specifically championing the growth of diversity in South Florida’s theater community.

However, this new Special Award is not to preclude diverse winners in the other categories or to silo minority candidates to this one recognition. This award should be viewed as “one more” opportunity to celebrate diversity, and never as the “only” one.

Note: The George Abbott Award is the only Carbonell Special Award that is guaranteed to be given annually; the others are given semi-annually or as determined by the Board.

Carbonell Outstanding Achievement Awards
The Carbonells will continue to give out traditional judge-selected awards but with several major changes.

For example, the Carbonells is eliminating the current two-tier judging system. All current recommendation panelists and judges will be surveyed about their interest in continuing as term-limited judges under the new system, and an aggressive outreach campaign will be made to recruit qualified judges that are more diverse racially, regionally and generationally.

To increase localized awareness and representation and reduce any perceived impression of favoritism, judges will now be county-specific based on where they live. The goal is to assemble a minimum of 21 independent, bias-free and term-limited judges (at least seven per county), a combination of veteran, new, and diverse judges representing a broad range of perspectives.

By making the judges primarily but not exclusively county-specific, this will:
•         greatly reduce the total number of shows each judge is required to see
•         avoid the hassle and expense of tri-county travel
•         limit the influence of any specific judge or group of judges from dominating the selection results across the entire region
•         make it easier for qualified younger, racially and financially diverse people to serve as Carbonell judges.

This change will enable judges to see a professional production at any point during its run, so theaters will not have to supply comps to recommendation panelists over opening weekend, when ticket demand may be highest.

Theaters will no longer have to provide up to 30 comps to Carbonell recommendation panelists and judges (and their guests). This number could be reduced by half.

By eliminating the two-tier judging process, professional productions can now offer fewer than 12 performances over a tighter timeframe and still be eligible for Carbonell consideration.

Because theaters are not equally distributed across all three counties, willing judges may be assigned to evaluate productions and performances in a county other than where they live—but only in those rare situations when a minimum of seven judges from that county is not available, and will end as soon as it reaches the minimum of seven in-county judges.

While the Carbonell Board is opposed to numerical quotas, it will—in partnership with local theaters—actively recruit new BIPOC judges, with the hope of having several diverse judges in each county.

The Carbonells will develop and institute a new point system in judging on-stage and back-stage achievements from which both the nominations and eventual award recipients will be determined. In situations where the number of attending judges vary, the point scores will be weighted for fairness. (For example, if five judges see a specific production, the total score will be divided by 5 to reach the average score; if seven judges see a production, the total score will be divided by 7.)

While judges will turn in their scorecards after each production, each judge will be given the opportunity to re-evaluate his/her ratings at the end of the season but before the final Carbonell nominations are announced.

Based on their accumulated final point scores, the top six candidates will be declared the nominees in each of the competitive categories. The nominees will be announced 10 weeks prior to the Carbonell Awards Ceremony, at which the nominee with the highest number of points in each category will be announced as the award recipient.

The 20 competitive categories in which judge-selected Carbonell Awards will be given are:
•         Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Lead Male Role, Play
•         Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Lead Female Role, Play
•         Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Lead Male Role, Musical
•         Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Lead Female Role, Musical
•         Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Male Role, Play
•         Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Female Role, Play
•         Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Male Role, Musical
•         Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Female Role, Musical
•         Outstanding Direction, Play
•         Outstanding Direction, Musical
•         Outstanding Music Direction
•         Outstanding Choreography
•         Outstanding Scenic Design, Play or Musical
•         Outstanding Lighting Design, Play or Musical
•         Outstanding Sound Design, Play or Musical
•         Outstanding Costume Design, Play or Musical
•         Outstanding Achievement of an Artistic Specialty
•         Outstanding New Work, Play or Musical
•         Outstanding Production, Play
•         Outstanding Production, Musical

Carbonell Audience Choice Awards
To put increased emphasis on celebration, the Carbonells will add a new set of awards selected by the general public through online voting—the new Carbonell Audience Choice Awards.

All South Florida professional theaters (regardless of size or newness) will self-select up to but no more than five nominations that were “moments of excellence” from their current season of licensed productions. These nominations could be for individual performances, direction, design, marketing campaign, community outreach, ensemble, donor, usher, new website, whatever.

Each theater will decide for itself how to determine its five Audience Choice nominees.

For example, in order to build internal spirit and to maximize a positive marketing/branding opportunity, participating theaters might organize a group of internal “Ambassadors” (made up of a deliberately diverse group of regular attendees, supporters, donors, and/or staff members) to pick the five nominations from that theater. The theater’s Executive Director/Artistic Director will supply the list of the five nominees, plus description and pix, to the Carbonell coordinator.

The recipient of each theater’s Carbonell Audience Choice Award will be determined by a public vote via an online ballot accessible on the Carbonell website over several weeks—managed by Survey Monkey.

(Note: Both the Discover the Palm Beaches Providencia Award and the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County Muse Awards have in recent years successfully moved to online voting to select some or all winners.)

This process will not pit theaters against one another, rather each participating theater will compete with itself to determine the top vote-getter from five self-selected, theater-specific nominations.

The online ballot will list each theater in alphabetical order by county, followed by the five nominees (including name, title, 30-word description and pix and/or video clip).

Online voting should be limited to one vote per individual &/or email address.

To build interest and suspense, the list of all the Carbonell Audience Choice Award nominees will be publicly announced six weeks in advance of the Carbonell Awards Ceremony, and the winners will be revealed at the event.

Doing the public vote online for the Carbonell Audience Choice Awards could have multiple benefits:

•         Driving traffic to the Carbonell website.

•         Participating theaters can use the nominations for marketing purposes through eblasts, press releases, program ads, fundraising appeals, etc. It is to their advantage to drive as many of their supporters/audience members as possible to vote online.

•         Capturing email addresses of all online voters to develop a tri-county eblast list of theater fans/supporters that can be used for a quarterly e-newsletter to promote current and upcoming productions, theater marketing and/or fundraising campaigns, etc. This is one more way in which the Carbonells can be an ongoing marketing asset for local theaters, generating increased public exposure and incremental ticket sales throughout the season.

•         The theaters participating in the Carbonell Audience Choice Awards, and all of the contributing Ambassadors at each theater, are additional potential ticket-buyers to the Carbonell Awards Ceremony, the nonprofit organization’s primary annual fundraising event.

•         This is also the perfect impetus to redesign the Carbonell’s website that will need to be updated anyway with all of the new award procedures.

Jack Zink Memorial Scholarships:
The Carbonell Awards will continue to give out three scholarships to graduating high school students—one per county—but to ensure equal treatment going forward, each of the three recipients will receive the same amount: $2,000; not $3,000 to one, $2,000 to another, and $1,000 to the third winner.

Carbonell Awards Ceremony:
The Carbonells will present both nominated musical performances from the just completed theater season, as well as live performances from current or upcoming productions selected by participating theaters.

As a result of this change, the awards ceremony will not only celebrate the excellence of recent productions, but it will also be used as a valuable opportunity to promote and sell tickets for current or upcoming shows. At the same time, smaller/newer/BIPOC professional theaters can take advantage of this performance opportunity to showcase their talent to the entire South Florida theatrical community.

PR Timetable in the weeks prior to the awards ceremony:
•         10 weeks:    Announce Carbonell Outstanding Achievement Nominees
•         8 weeks       Each participating theater will provide its list of Carbonell
Audience Choice Award nominees.
•         6 weeks      Announce Carbonell Audience Choice nominees and start
taking votes online.
•         4 weeks      Announce Carbonell Special Award recipients.

The reality we face is that South Florida is very diverse, and growing increasingly more so. As pointed out in the Open Letter of 8/6/20 and affirmed by U.S. Census population estimates dated 9/4/18:
+ Palm Beach County: White (not Hispanic or Latino) 53.5%; Black 19.8%; Hispanic or Latino 23.4%; and Asian-American/Pacific Islander 3%.
+ Broward County: White (not Hispanic or Latino) 34.8%; Black 30.2%; Hispanic or Latino 31.1%; and Asian-American/Pacific Islander 3.9%.
+ Miami/Dade: White (not Hispanic or Latino) 12.9%; Black 17.7%; Hispanic or Latino 69.4%; and Asian-American/Pacific Islander 1.6%.

The Carbonell Awards need to not only recognize but also reflect this diversity—in its Board of Directors, in its group of judges, in both its Specialty and Outstanding Achievement Awards, and in the new Audience Choice Awards.

The signers of the original Open Letter expressed their hope that it would be “the beginning of a collaborative and productive journey toward building a better future for our South Florida Theatre Community.” Let it be so.

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